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Book review: The Roman Wars in Spain

the roman wars in spain daniel varga

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Review The Roman Wars in Spain

Daniel Varga’s ‘The Roman Wars in Spain: The Military Confrontation with Guerrilla Warfare‘ is a book that focuses on the military aspects of the long Roman conquest of Hispania. Daniel Varga analyzes the strategies and tactics of both the Roman side and the many different native tribes and chiefdoms that fought the Romans. The author uses both literary sources and recent archeological findings, and he examines how the wars in the Iberian Peninsula changed the organization, tactics and equipment of the Roman armies.

This is what buyers of the book said on Amazon:

This is an interesting, mostly valuable and, at times, fascinating book about the Roman wars in Spain over a period of almost two centuries, from the end of the Second Punic War down to the final subjugation of the Galicians, Asturians and Cantabrians during the reign of Augustus. Drawn from the author’s PhD thesis, it seeks to explain why it took so long for the Roman to conquer and “pacify” Iberia, but also to what extent these long and gruelling wars influenced both the development and the equipment of the Roman army.

The book contains a reasonably good – and often a very good – narrative of the numerous conflicts across the whole period, despite a few repetitions. At times, however, the analysis can be a bit unconvincing, partly because the author tends to go too far in seeking to ascribe each and every change in the Roman Army to the influence of the Spanish conflicts. Another limit is that the author’s statement about the Iberian tactics being so problematic for the Romans, and the causes of such problems, are not always clear.

All of the main points are made and well made. However, the author gives the impression of having tried, but not entirely succeeded, to ascribe the Roman armies’ difficulties to a single main cause. The first disadvantage that the Romans had to cope with was the largely mountainous and often forested terrain which tended to put Roman legionaries at a disadvantage against a more mobile and more lightly equipped enemy. This is probably the main reason explaining Rome’s difficulties and numerous defeats. A second point, which is also made, is that Rome’s armies were often commanded by second class or even mediocre generals who lead themselves and their armies be lured onto unfavourable terrain and ambushed. While true, the author does not take into consideration that not all Iberian or Lusitanian warlords were of the same calibre as Viriathus or as the Roman “renegade” general Sertorius.

A more disputable contention is the point that the Iberian and Lusitanian presented a unique challenge among Rome’s enemies in that they were capable of fighting successfully both a guerrilla war and a more “conventional” one with pitched battles. I found this point somewhat controversial.
While the point is correct, strictly speaking, because Iberian and Lusitanian armies were indeed able to fight both “conventionally” and “unconventionally”, they do not seem to have presented the same kind of challenges to Roman armies when fighting the kind of warfare in which the latter excelled. In fact, there seem to have been few pitched battles lost by Roman armies when fighting on level ground, unless such armies had been previously weakened and morally affected by guerrilla warfare and ambushes.

Then there are also other not entirely convincing points made by the author. The traditional view is that, despite all their difficulties, the Romans won their wars through attrition and because of their ability to draw on their superior reserves of manpower. The author rightly challenges this view because it is a bit of an over-simplification. One of the reasons for the time taken to conquer the whole peninsula was that Rome prioritised – and often had to prioritise – other fronts, such as wars in the Hellenistic East, Africa or Gaul during the Second and the First century. The other reason is the alleged difficulties in recruiting sufficient troops for fighting in Spain.

There is clearly some value in these elements and they are both to some extent sustained by the written sources. The problem, however, is that the author gives the impression of exaggerating the points at times. He also gives the somewhat misleading impression that the Roman Senate deliberately chose to prioritise wars in the East, and that these were more popular because the wars were easier to win and the plunder that could be expected was more abundant. While the later point may be correct to some extent, at least once the silver mines of Southern Spain had been secured by Rome; it would be a mistake to believe that the wars against Macedonia and the Seleucids were deemed “easy” just because the Roman victories turned out to be decisive. In fact, Roman senators and generals were rather concerned, not to say nervous, when having to face pike phalanxes, heavy cavalry and elephants and the victories that they won were more closely fought than what is generally believed or even admitted by some of the (Roman, of course) sources.

Finally, there are also a handful of glitches and questionable statements which could perhaps have been corrected through a more thorough editing process. Here are just two examples. One is to mention that “the Roman army was organised according to the Macedonian phalanx formation” until the introduction of manipular legions. Instead of “Macedonian phalanx formation”, the reader should understand “Greek hoplite phalanx formation”, especially since the reference is to the fifth century – a time where Macedonians did not fight in phalanx formation at all – and since the Romans never used pike formations during the Republic. A second questionable statement is that the Romans, at a disadvantage when fighting over broken and/or forested terrain “eventually learned”. They did develop and use more cavalry and more auxiliary units to mitigate the vulnerability of heavy infantry over broken terrain or forests. However, if anything, the persistence of Roman disasters and defeats when Roman forces when ambushed, mauled or even destroyed when fighting under such conditions – think of the annihilation of Varus and his legions in Germany in 9 AD, or the near destruction of the Ninth legion during the revolt of Boudicea, both of which happened well after Spain was pacified – should lead to qualify such a statement.

Four stars.” – JPS

Lots of scholarly errors, such as incorrect info, wrong dates, etc. Not enough maps, I shouldn’t have to use the internet to look for maps to follow the terrain the book describes. The book skips around a lot, isn’t chronological organized, makes it very confusing to read.

This book should not have been published without much more editing.” – Chelsie Steinhauser

Summary of reviews: reviews are mixed, with an average 3/5 stars at the moment of the writing of this article. Criticism mainly comes from some wrong dates and information, the editing of the book and the quite scholarly nature of the book, even though it’s a short book. The positive aspects of the book are the good analysis the author makes about the causes that made the conquest of Hispania so long and how the wars in Spain changed the Roman army.

Hispania: Principate and Romanization

This is episode 8 called Hispania: Principate and Romanization and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • What does Romanization mean
  • What aspects Romanization involved
  • Which were the key elements or causes for the Romanization of Hispania
  • The internal elements that explain this process of acculturation
  • Which were the different phases of Romanization and why wasn’t the process geographically homogenous
  • Which were the key economic sectors of Hispania during the Principate
  • A discussion on the importance of the policies of colonization of Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus, as well as the Edict of Latinization of Vespasian
  • Why did Vespasian issue the Edict of Latinization and what consequences did that have
  • The reign of two Hispano-Roman Emperors: Trajan and Hadrian
  • The decadence of the Roman Empire with the Antonine Plague under the reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus
  • The Severan dynasty and how the Crisis of the Third Century started

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 8, called Hispania: Principate and Romanization. In this episode you will learn the political and economic history of Roman Spain up to the Crisis of the Third Century, as well as the process of Romanization. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Okay, some of you may wonder what Romanization means. Romanization was the process of acculturation of the populations incorporated into the Roman Republic and later Empire. Nonetheless, Romanization was not a deliberate or conscious policy that attempted to eradicate indigenous cultures, and it was not a totally one-sided thing. It was a spontaneous and gradual phenomenon that resulted from the interaction and integration of Roman and native cultures. Cultures change and the Roman culture prior to the Second Punic War is different from the one of, say, the 1st century AD. In Hispania, Roman and indigenous elements blended together and formed the Hispano-Roman culture. Of course the Roman elements predominated, but characteristics of indigenous cultures remained or adapted to look Roman. This syncretism is exactly the same that happened later when Spain colonized America. Yes, Spanish culture predominated, but indigenous elements prevailed as well and new regional cultures emerged from the fusion of Spanish and native cultures.

But what aspects did Romanization cover? Language, religion, customs, material culture and technology, law and urbanism. Let’s start with language. Latin became the lingua franca of the Roman Empire, it was first adopted by the upper classes of Hispania to communicate with both the Roman administration and other tribes. Many natives of the elite sent their kids to Rome to learn the language and to get to know influential people. As you can see, it was in their best interest to adopt Latin. The poor didn’t receive a formal education, yet the language eventually spread from the top to the bottom of the society. By the late 1st century AD all native languages, except from Ancient Basque, had disappeared.

capitoline triad

Another important aspect of Romanization is religion. As you may remember, in Pre-Roman Spain there were many religions, and foreign religions had already influenced the natives before the Romans came. I’m talking about the Phoenician and Greek deities, that could and were easily adapted to those of Rome. As many of you know, Rome essentially changed the names of Greek deities and made them as their own. Yes, they were not very original. Iberians quickly embraced Roman religion during the Late Republic and Early Principate, although that didn’t exclude the possibility of believing in other deities. The most important deities were those of the Capitoline Triad, that is Jupiter, the god of gods; Juno, the goddess that protected the empire; and Minerva, the goddess of wisdom. On the other hand, Iberians quickly adopted imperial cult, as I mentioned in the episode about the Pre-Roman peoples of Iberia Iberians had this social institution called devotio that connected strongly the patron and client, and imperial cult was just an evolution of that. Even when Augustus was still alive, the Spanish cities of Tarragona and Mérida built altars and later temples in his honor. Oriental beliefs, like Syrian, Egyptian, Phoenician or Persian gods had their followers in Hispania too, while Christianity didn’t expand into Hispania until the 3rd century. But we will see the history of Christianity in Hispania in the next episode.

The natives adopted Roman customs as well. They adopted Roman clothes and names, again starting from the elites to then expand to lower social classes; they abandoned the practice of human sacrifice; people started going to bathhouses to clean themselves and socialize; and Spanish people started attending the famous Roman spectacles. Spectacles were financed by the rich landowner class to please the masses, similar to modern sports like soccer or basketball. Greek and Latin plays spread Greco-Roman culture, but violent “games” like gladiator battles or elephants vs rhinos had a more important role spreading Romanization. I mean, just look at Mortal Kombat, that’s the real Roman legacy!

The process of Romanization also meant the adoption of Roman material culture, tastes and technology. The more economically integrated Hispania became to the Roman Empire, the more Spanish people adopted Roman currency, units of measure, taste for wine and olive oil, advanced farming technologies or Greek-styled techniques to build sculptures. The process of accepting Roman laws and judiciary system wasn’t easy, it took time and it wasn’t implemented immediately in all of Hispania. To illustrate this with an example, during the Late Republican period provincial governors started organizing assemblies in multiple locations during the winter to deliver justice within and between tribes. That created a stronger relationship of dependency towards Rome.

About the Romanization in terms of urbanism, the Romans founded the cities of Córdoba, Tarragona, Valencia, Palma de Mallorca, Pamplona, Seville, Mérida, Zaragoza, Barcelona… Rome, especially under Caesar and Augustus, founded many cities above native settlements following the Roman urbanist standards. It’s notorious though that some exclusively native towns eventually imitated Roman urbanism to look more Roman and improve their prestige.

Those were the aspects that involved the process of Romanization. But which were the key elements for this process? The first key element is the constant presence of Roman and Latin soldiers. There were between 20 and 25k soldiers permanently stationed in Hispania until the late 1st century, and if there was a campaign led by the consul you can double or triple these numbers. Many military camps later became permanent urban settlements, like it happened with León, Tarragona or the Roman neighborhood of Emporion. The importance of the soldiers in the Romanization process was not so much during their service, but after soldiers ended their military duties. Most received or were able to buy a land and farm it, and the majority married native women. The army’s role to Romanize Spain was twofold, Roman and Italic soldiers settled in Spain and Iberian and Celtic soldiers learned Latin and Roman costumes when they joined the army. Natives weren’t accepted as core soldiers for Rome overnight, during most of the Republican period natives served as temporary auxiliaries and fought using their weapons and tactics. But later they progressively integrated into the Roman army, as Italic soldiers started to serve in the legions and someone had to fill the vacuum left by the permanent Italic auxiliaries. Even before the Principate, there was already a legion entirely made up by Iberians. When native Iberians, Celts or Celtiberians returned to their towns, they returned knowing Latin and Roman costumes and they, in turn, Romanized their communities.

Hispania was to the Romans what America was to the Spaniards, a land of opportunities perfect to colonize. The fertile lands of the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys, the mines of Andalusia, Cartagena or the north, or the commercial opportunities attracted peasants, merchants, slavers and prostitutes alike. Why Romans and Italics migrated from their homeland? Since the 2nd century BC middle classes and free peasants became poorer due to the rise of patricians who bought lands and worked them with slaves. It was the increasing social inequality and poverty in Italy that encouraged Latin colonization in Hispania. Colonization was opposed by the Senate, but the army founded some colonies with both Roman citizens and Italic colonists, and later Caesar and Augustus promoted colonization with civil population too.

via augusta

The army not only had the task to expand the empire and suffocate revolts, they also did public works like the building of roads or bridges that were so important to integrate the empire. Roman roads were key for Romanization and to maintain the empire. Without them, armies would have had difficulties to move, trade would have been more restricted to the coastline, and Roman culture wouldn’t have expanded as much as it did through the inner regions of the empire. The Julio-Claudian dynasty finished the construction of the most important roads of Hispania, the Via Augusta that connected the coastline from the Pyrenees to Cádiz, and the Via de la Plata that connected Mérida in modern Extremadura with the mines of the north.

We have seen the key elements from the Roman side, but there must be internal elements that explained the acculturation of the natives, because not all conquerors leave a lasting legacy. This is an issue I have already talked about in previous episodes, but local elites faced a dilemma with the arrival of the Romans: they could either collaborate or oppose them. The elites needed to evaluate what was better for their interests. The smart native leaders understood that it was better to be friends with Rome instead of enemies. The smart ones survived and preserved or even improved their position of power within their community, the fools who opposed Rome perished. Soon the elites learned Latin and Roman customs and adopted an external Roman look. Eventually that gave them privileges, as they were rewarded with Latin or even Roman citizenship.

Okay, I’ve covered the aspects and causes of Romanization, now I want to take the perspective of the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to imagine how they reacted to the arrival of the Romans. Let’s start with the Greek colonists, who were the first inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula to ask for Roman protection. Imagine you are a merchant who is an influential political leader in Emporion, the Greek commercial city located in modern Catalonia. News arrive that Hannibal desires to conquer the entire Iberian Peninsula. You know that if Carthage succeeds, your Greek countrymen will be driven out by Carthaginian merchants. At the same time, you know that Rome is an emerging power. From your perspective, Rome is the lesser evil, as Romans are closer to the Greek world. In addition to that the native Iberians control the plain while the Greek colony is pressed to the sea, so perhaps if Emporion shows unequivocal loyalty to Rome you and all your colleagues may be able to expand and stop feeling threatened by the natives you trade with. So you talk to your community and all of you decide to offer Emporion as the landing base for the Romans, and the Republic accepts the proposal.

emporion roman and greek city

After the Second Punic War Emporion flourished as a powerful city with expanded borders. Rome rewarded your city with the plains of the natives, tax exemptions and a monopoly for the production of bricks in Hispania. In your lifetime, Emporion grows economically and it’s clear that the decision to show a pro-Roman position was the right one. Yet, your grandson saw Emporion losing importance. The Romans established a military camp that soon became permanent. From this outpost the Roman town emerged, and waves of Roman and Italic immigrants arrived. They soon outnumbered the Greeks and the city lost its Greek identity, while at the same time Tarragona became the most economically powerful city of Hispania Citerior. A similar process happened in Cádiz, the most important Phoenician and Turdetani city of Hispania. The city had long been a friend of Carthage, but when they saw clearly who was going to win, they switched sides and made a treaty of friendship with Rome. In less than a century the city lost its identity and was Romanized, which isn’t surprising as Cádiz and the region of the Turdetani was the most urbanized of the Iberian Peninsula.

If we take the perspective of the Iberians, they only wanted to be left alone, to not be enslaved and to not have their lands devastated. But they soon realized that the Romans weren’t altruistic liberators, they were just other conquerors. The Celts and Celtiberians only had an economic interest in the war, the ones who served wanted to earn some money while maintaining their independence. They were left alone, for the moment.

I say that because during the first phase of Roman conquest, that’s between the Second Punic War and the Second Celtiberian War, the Republic had strong control over the Mediterranean coastline, but many inner regions were not controlled at all. The area above the Guadiana river and the region of the Celtiberians was out of Roman control. Rome could exert limited actual power over the territory conquered. Romans relied on pacts with the native elites, they constantly had to deal with rebellions and raids, and they could only recruit native auxiliaries on an irregular basis. A very illustrative example of the limited power the Romans had is seen in something as important as taxation. We can’t imagine a modern state that doesn’t directly tax its inhabitants, but that’s what happened during Republican Rome. The Republic leased the right of taxing to equites, for a previously set sum of money. In doing so, the Roman state avoided any risk of non-payment while the equites had all the incentives to do whatever was needed to cover their expenses and make money. Key cities like Emporion, Sagunto, Cádiz or the few Latin colonies founded during this period were exempted to pay taxes for their loyalty or status. Therefore, the tax burden fell on the native and less-urbanized communities, no doubt why Iberians started general uprisings against Roman rule. Roman and Italic colonizers started the Romanization in the areas that were more economically important, the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys, as well as the mineral-rich Cartagena, but again, the extend of the Romanization was quite limited.

In the second phase of Roman conquest, between the Numantine War and the Sertorian War, the Roman Republic had the Tagus River, in Central Spain, as the frontier of their Spanish possessions. With the defeat of the Sertorian supporters, Rome forced many native communities to use Roman currency and forced their relocation to plains to control more effectively the territory and prevent revolts. Those policies were adopted to pacify the conquered lands, but that in fact accelerated the process of Romanization. At this phase some tribes like the ones of modern Catalonia, Valencia, Aragon, and even some Vascones had their tribal unity substituted by local ties in urban areas. The Celtiberians still resisted Roman practices and their basic social institution, the gens, persisted. Latin was adopted to speak with the Roman ruling class and to speak with distant tribes, but to speak with others of their community they still spoke their language, and their laws were still the tribal ones.

The third phase and the pivotal point in the Romanization of Hispania was marked by the policies of Caesar, Augustus and his successors. Caesar granted, for the first time, the rank of municipium to entire cities, something that granted Latin citizenship. Caesar started the most ambitious policy of colonization yet, as Caesar saw in Hispania the perfect land to solve the social chaos and economic misery of the Italic peasants. Rome had been present in Spain for more than a century, there were fertile lands in the Mediterranean side of the Peninsula, it was relatively near Italy and during the civil war Hispania Ulterior was loyal to Pompey, so it was necessary to make the province loyal to him. All the conditions were aligned to take a step further to integrate Hispania.

roman and latin colonies

Caesar’s colonization policy was very successful, and his successor Augustus kept it and expanded it. But Augustus not only continued the policy of colonization and extension of Latin citizenship. If Caesar could conquer Gaul, he needed to complete the conquest of Hispania once and for all, submitting the sparsely populated northern regions of Asturias and Cantabria that raided from time to time their neighbors who were under Roman protection. The greatness of Augustus in Hispania didn’t only come from that conquest, he also started ambitious public works to transform Spain into a new Italy.

He then took the task of reorganizing the provinces. Augustus expanded Hispania Citerior and changed its name to Hispania Tarraconensis, and he also divided the province of Hispania Ulterior in two, the imperial province of Lusitania and the senatorial province of Baetica in Andalusia. Senatorial provinces were provinces that were controlled by the Senate instead of the Emperor, with little chances of rebellion and no legions stationed. You can imagine that Baetica was very Romanized at this point, as the newborn Roman Empire considered Baetica a core territory. The province was the richest region of Hispania, with its mineral resources and fertile lands for agriculture. But that’s not the only reason Baetica was the most Romanized region along the coasts of Hispania Citerior, I mean, remember, who inhabited those lands? The Iberians. And the Iberians, due to their location, had already interacted with other advanced civilizations, namely Greeks and Phoenicians. Their social structures and institutions were similar to those of Italy, only less advanced. That’s why the process of Romanization was easier in southern and eastern Spain.

On the other hand, Central Spain experienced a slower process of Romanization. How and to what extend were the peoples of Central Spain integrated into the Roman Empire? Roads, villas and urbanism were important elements to Romanize Central Spain. Villas were luxurious country houses built by landowners to control their states and show their wealth, and in heavily rural environments like Central Spain villas were the expression of Roman culture. Urbanism in Central Spain was a middle ground between the large cities of southern and eastern Spain and the sparsely populated northern regions. That’s why Central Spain took more time to Romanize, but it ended up Romanized anyway. A good indicator of how Romanized it was is that by the 1st century AD Central Spain could be demilitarized.

The other area is Northern Spain, that received little Roman cultural influence during the entire lifetime of the Roman Empire. Some Roman legions were stationed to protect the mines, but in most of those areas Romans only showed up every now and then. Because of that ancient tribal structures, native languages and local laws survived well into the Principate.

Before we get into the political history of Hispania during the Principate, I want to discuss the economy of Hispania of this era. The most outstanding sectors of the Hispano-Roman economy of the Principate were agriculture, mining and salting. Hispania was not anymore the breadbasket of Rome like Egypt, nor the wealthiest region of the empire. Yet Hispania presented opportunities to farm new lands and the greatest source of mineral wealth of the Roman Empire, with the far Britannia as the only province comparable in mineral resources. Hispania exported cereals, but also olive oil and wines that had an excellent reputation over the empire. Olive oil production was so important that in Rome they built the artificial Monte Testaccio with a height of 35 meters. They built it using a huge number of broken amphoras that mostly came from Baetica, modern-day Andalusia. In fact, the Romans were the ones who introduced olive trees and grapes on a large scale. While Baetica greatly increased olive oil and wine production, that meant that there was less land used to produce grain. Central Spain probably had the role of growing cereals for the rest of Hispania, as the dry Meseta it’s ideal for that. Grain must have been transported through roads or rivers to later be shipped by sea. Among the changes the Romans introduced in the Spanish agriculture, they made clearer distinctions between common and private lands and introduced new farming tools and more efficient agricultural techniques. All that allowed to have, to some extent, a market-oriented rural economy.

economy hispania industries

The second industry I mentioned was mining, and you may remember that Rome found very attractive the mineral wealth of the Iberian Peninsula. The mines of Cartagena, Andalusia and later northern Spain became very important for the empire. The mines of Baetica lost importance in the late 2nd century, as the mines of Britannia were easier to exploit and were very rich, but the mines of the north maintained their importance even in the Late Roman Empire. Mines were initially owned and exploited by the state, but later Rome leased mines to Roman businessmen. The exploitation of mines required skilled workers and the foundation of colonies, so we can say that mining was a pillar for the Romanization of Spain too.

The third outstanding industry I mentioned was salting, that involved the extraction of salt and fishing to later commercialize salted fish. Cartagena, Cádiz and other cities of southern Spain and Lusitania became famous for this activity. In addition to salted fish, Spanish salting factories produced a very popular sauce in Italy and Greece, garum. This may sound very disgusting, but this sauce was made from fermented fish intestines. There are only two reasons someone would consume salted fermented fish intestines, to use it as an aphrodisiac or as a medicine, and garum was used for both. To end this economic talk, I wanted to add that hunting, horse breeding and the manufacture of textiles and pottery were important industries as well.

Now let’s make an overview to the political evolution of the Roman Empire from the Julio-Claudian dynasty to the Severan dynasty. I’ve already talked about how Caesar and Augustus of the Julio-Claudian dynasty boosted the economic development, Roman colonization and integration of Hispania into the empire. Nero was the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty and the Flavian dynasty took the Roman throne in 69 AD. Emperor Vespasian issued the Edict of Latinization that gave not the Roman but the Latin citizenship to all the free Hispano-Romans, including the inhabitants of central and northern Spain that weren’t very Romanized. That was the definitive step for the integration of Hispania into the Roman Empire. This was the largest extend of rights given by Rome since the Republic gave Roman citizenship to all the freemen of Italy. But why did Vespasian take a measure of this magnitude? There are several reasons that explain the Edict of Latinization. One is purely political, Hispania helped Vespasian to reach his position, but the other was that Hispania was enough Romanized to at least give Latin citizenship, which was inferior to the Roman in theory but not so much in practice at this point. To mention another factor, as Italy grew wealthier, less Romans wanted to serve in the legions, and giving Latin citizenship to Hispano-Romans facilitated and encouraged recruitment.

Vespasian wanted to accomplish several objectives in Hispania: to reduce the size of the army in Hispania and relocate the legions to more problematic regions; to use more extensively Spanish manpower; to promote the mines of the north and the region of Lusitania; and to promote municipalities. By giving Hispano-Romans a more active role in the administration of the Roman Empire, Vespasian hoped he could purge the Senate and legions of disloyal Romans. It was during his reign that the administration of Hispania became civilian instead of military.

Because of the Edict of Latinization of Vespasian, a powerful faction of senators from Hispania emerged and that very same faction would soon promote, in the early 2nd century, two Hispano-Roman emperors, Trajan and Hadrian. Trajan became the first emperor born outside Italy and is considered to have equaled or even surpassed Augustus. He embraced the stoic ideals of the also Hispano-Roman Seneca to govern: austerity, kindness, self-demand, meritocracy, respect and tolerance without renouncing to authority and determination, and impassivity against adversity. That’s why he was called Optimus Princeps, which means best first citizen. He implemented social welfare policies, promoted an extensive public works program over all the empire and expanded the empire to its maximum extend with the conquest of Dacia and his campaigns in Mesopotamia.

trajan

Trajan favored Hispano-Romans in both administrative positions and the army, and that was criticized by some sectors of the Roman oligarchy. During Trajan’s rule recruitment in the wealthy Hispania Baetica diminished as it happened in Italy, while many auxiliaries came from the poorer north. To end the talk about him, it’s remarkable how Hispania benefited from his public works program. Trajan ordered the expansion of cities, the building of bridges and amphitheaters and the reparation and extension of Roman roads, with special attention to the neglected region of Lusitania.

His successor, Hadrian, adopted a policy of consolidating the gains and establishing defensible borders, as it’s exemplified by Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia, but also by the withdrawal of Roman troops from the recently conquered Mesopotamia. Hadrian continued the policies of social welfare and public works of his predecessor. The Hispano-Roman Emperor travelled throughout the Roman Empire to know the problems the empire had and to solve them. For instance, he gathered in Tarragona an assembly with representatives from all Hispania and asked them to contribute with an important number of soldiers to solve the problems in Britannia and Mauritania. His proposal was met with fierce resistance at first, but Hadrian and the representatives reached an agreement at last. Hadrian relied heavily at first on Hispano-Romans for key administrative positions and to fill the ranks of the army, but that changed as years went by. Overall the governments of Trajan and Hadrian are remembered for their prosperity, justice and relative peace.

Hadrian was succeeded by Antoninus Pius, who had a reign marked by peace. Antoninus proved to be a very good administrator, as he left the office with a huge surplus in the treasury. He also expanded access to drinking water and built Roman roads in Gaul, modern-day France. Nonetheless, the empire started showing signals of stagnation under him, and Antoninus Pius barely did anything in Hispania, although that may be reasonable since previous emperors had dedicated enough attention to the region. The reigns of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus represented the end of the Pax Romana and the start of the slow decadence of the Roman Empire. The Antonine Plague desolated the empire, killing as much as 20 to 30% of the population, and to make things worse the Roman Empire suffered raids from Germanic tribes in the northern frontier and Berber tribes from North Africa in Hispania. The economy of Hispania resented from plagues and raids, but also from heavy taxes and levies. The population of Hispania is estimated to have been around 6 or 7 million people before the Antonine Plague, equal to that of the Italian Peninsula. But after that, population declined to around 5 million, and the population of Hispania remained more or less constant up to the Renaissance. Yep, more than ten centuries after the plague.

With Commodus the Antonine dynasty ended, and the Severan dynasty eventually seized power at the end of the 2nd century. The Severans sowed the seeds for an economic crisis, they exponentially increased the salaries of the soldiers, but since the state couldn’t pay for that they decided to devaluate the Roman currency. Eventually that generated high inflation, distrust in the Roman monetary system and in general an economic mess. Hispania specifically suffered more since landowners started spending more capital in North Africa. Regarding the military, the recruitment of Hispano-Romans massively decreased from the rule of Septimius Severus onwards, as it had happened with Italians.

The infamous Caracalla then conceded Roman citizenship to all the free peoples of the Roman Empire, not as an act of altruism but to tax more and to have more available manpower for the army. That didn’t affect much Hispania, as many already had Roman citizenship and every free Hispano-Roman had the very similar Latin citizenship. With that law Roman citizenship stopped being something to be proud of, because everyone had it, and for the ones who hadn’t they saw how they had to pay more taxes now, so they weren’t happy either. Severus Alexander became the last of the Severan dynasty, his reign was relatively peaceful, although with the rising Sassanid Empire and Germanic tribes threatening Roman power. What was worse and fatal for Severus Alexander was the breakdown of military discipline and continuous conspirations within the army. He was eventually assassinated by mutineers in Germania in 235, ending the Principate and beginning the Crisis of the Third Century that almost collapsed the Roman Empire.

THE VERDICT: I’m sure many of you had already heard about Romanization before, but it’s not an exceptional cultural phenomenon at all. There are actually many historical and current phenomenon of cultural assimilation that end with -zation. Hispanicization, Anglicization, Russification, even fucking Uzbekization and this is not a meme. But this is what happens with cultures, they can be transmitted in a more peaceful way, sometimes cultures can be imposed, but what’s common is that states try to expand their borders, their wealth and of course their culture. The desire to grow, expand and possess are the essence of human nature, and that’s how empires rise. And with that, The Verdict ends.

Many things to learn from this episode, right? What Romanization was and how it happened, which were the key industries of the economy of Hispania, how did Roman politics evolved and how that affected Spain… I hope you understood everything and learned things you didn’t know. If something wasn’t clear, relisten the episode or go to thehistoryofspain.com to read the script and see the images. In the website there’s also a list of books about the history of Spain and you can subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA ANTIGUA. TOMO II. HISPANIA ROMANA. José María Blázquez and others

THE ROMANIZATION OF CENTRAL SPAIN: COMPLEXITY, DIVERSITY AND CHANGE IN A PROVINCIAL HINTERLAND. Leonard A. Curchin

https://memoriasdeuntambor.com/hispania-romana

https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanizaci%C3%B3n_de_Hispania

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanization_of_Hispania

https://revistas.ucm.es/index.php/GERI/article/viewFile/GERI9393110271A/14512

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Book review: Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain

cover sertorius and the struggle for spain

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Review Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain

Sertorius and the Struggle for Spain is a book written by Philip Matyszak where the author tells the story of the epic struggle between Sertorius and Sulla to control the Roman Republic, a civil war that was a prelude of the end of the Republic. The Sertorian War developed in Hispania and there Sertorius made alliances with the natives, especially the Lusitanians, and used guerrilla tactics to defeat larger Roman legions. I talk about the Sertorian War in episode 7, Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance.

This is what customers say on Amazon:

“I am grateful that there are authors such as Matyzsak to write books like this, and publishers such as Pen and Sword to publish them. Considering the scarcity of sources on the topic, as Matyzak recognizes in the introduction, he still does an excellent job of using everything available to craft as complete account as possible on the career of the Roman rebel. A book like this is useful for those who want to learn more about Sertorius, but who have neither the time nor expertise to gather all the material together to form a thorough portrait. Although the author has written many books on ancient Rome, this is the first I have ever read. I am now looking forward to reading his next book on the Social War, and perhaps some of his previous titles as well.

The book has ten chapters and is a short read, about 180 pages. Besides the life and career of the man himself, the author also includes a brief summary of the history of Roman rule from the time of Scipio Africanus to the time of Sertorius, and includes a survey of different tribes living in Iberia. The last chapter also follows the remnants of Sertorius’ troops as they continue their struggles for and against Rome in later wars up to the time of Augustus.” – Luis A. Hernández

The book details the Sertorian War in Spain between populated and coordinates forces. The continuation of the Roman Revolution in Spain provides powerful insights into the issues and personalities that drove this great conflict. Quintus Sertorius is properly portrayed by using Plutarch and Sallust as the tragic genius, defeating superior forces through brilliant leadership, but ultimately unable to overcome imperial resources. The book also analyses the strategies of Roman assimilation and their profound consequences. It is a very good read!!!” – José Gómez-Rivera

And this is what users of Goodreads say:

As far as tragic historical figures go, Sertorius must rank among the top. Through no fault of his own, he wound up on the wrong side of history on multiple occasions, finding himself on the losing side of politics and civil wars.

Matyszak is explicit in stating his unequivocal opinion that Sertorius was a military genius of the highest order. At each mention of his prowess (dealing with other generals accomplished in their own right the way a professional athlete would beat an amateur) the reader is left wondering what could have been had Sertorius made different allegiances, or been born in a happier time. Surely, a general of his caliber could have been one of Rome’s greatest heroes rather than one of its most notorious rebels. In an era where lesser generals made names for themselves with epic conquests for the Republic Sertorius could have achieved a great deal for the state.

The author does a wonderful job of weaving the patchwork sources into a coherent narrative, and when the sources are silent he does well to fill in the blanks and inform the reader of the logic behind his assumptions. For a book that could easily fall into hero-worship, Matyszak does excellently to avoid the blunder of excusing the atrocities committed by Sertorius however tame they might be relative to his contemporaries.

Any story about a supremely tragic and dramatic figure is attractive to a wide audience, and as this is one of most readable books on Sertorius I would highly recommend it. The story is essentially the tale of one man against the world in a battle he knew he would inevitably lose. In the forward Matyszak says that Sertorius’ story should serve as an example to give hope to the hopeless, but I believe it would be more accurate to say that his story should serve as an example of how to preserve one’s dignity in the face of hopelessness.” – Daniel

A fascinating and generally balanced account of the Roman general who fled to Spain after Sulla mounted a coup in Rome, and largely controlled the Spanish peninsula in the 70s BC, resisting Roman armies until he was assassinated. My main reservations are that in the first part of the book, Philip Matyszak too uncritically accepts some of the belittling of the great general Marius in some of the Roman sources, and is also a bit uncritical in accepting accounts of Sertorius’s alleged change of character for the worse in his final year of life.” – Michael Cayley

Summary of reviews: reviews are generally positive, remarking how narrative the story is and the analysis that Matyszak gives focused on the natives. Some of the critics say that the author praises maybe too much Sertorius and takes for granted that Sertorius knew he was going to lose in the last year of his life.

Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance

This is episode 7 called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Why Rome took so much time conquering Hispania
  • What interests did Rome have in the Iberian Peninsula
  • What happened in the Iberian Revolt of 197-195 BC and why did Iberians revolt multiple times
  • What happened in the First and Second Celtiberian Wars
  • Which were the two major wars that were the turning point in the Roman conquest of Hispania: the pacification of Lusitania with the defeat of Viriathus and the Numantine War
  • The internal tensions in Italy and the causes of the fall of the Roman Republic
  • Why did Sertorius fled for Hispania
  • A brief talk about the civil wars that ended the Republican system
  • Why and how did Augustus completed the conquest of Hispania with the Cantabrian Wars in northern Spain
  • Reflections on the importance of the devotio

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 7, called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Native Resistance. In this episode you will learn that the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was a long and arduous process that involved different rebellions and wars. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

We left the previous episode with the Romans winning the Second Punic War and Rome becoming the most powerful state of the Mediterranean. But the Roman conquest of the Iberian Peninsula was a process that spanned two centuries, being by far the region that took them the longest to conquer. Why was that the case? Well, first of all Rome didn’t even control the entire Italian Peninsula when the Second Punic War started, in the south there were Greek colonies and Italian cities that betrayed Rome when the city showed weakness during the war, and in the north the Gauls threatened the Roman borders. Then you have to consider the size of the Iberian Peninsula, if you look at a map of Europe it may not seem that way, but the Iberian Peninsula doubles the size of the Italian Peninsula! The last reason is that, as you know if you listened to episode 5, the Iberian Peninsula was extremely politically divided.

phases roman conquest of hispania

I answered the question of why, but that brings up another question. What interests did Rome have in the Iberian Peninsula? Truth is, the Roman Republic didn’t show any special interest of conquest before the Second Punic War. Yes, they made alliances with the Greek city-states of Iberia, but the Romans didn’t even actively seek those alliances, the Greek city-states were the ones that asked for Roman aid because they were afraid of Carthage. Therefore, Rome only became interested in Hispania because Carthage used it as a power base to attack Rome. With Hispania in Roman hands, Rome deprived Carthage from a fundamental base to recruit troops and extract natural resources. The Carthaginians weren’t a threat now that the Romans had part of Hispania, but the Romans realized that the Iberian Peninsula could be exploited not only for geostrategic reasons, but also economic.

As Rome didn’t plan the annexation of the Carthaginian possessions of Spain, there were constitutional irregularities and hesitations at first. Even the command of Scipio Africanus in Hispania was irregular, but who would dare to speak up against the hero of Rome? What Hispania needed was a strong leadership, and that was made very clear when a revolt in modern Catalonia started during the Second Punic War. Scipio Africanus rightly stated that continuous military presence was needed, and he established permanent garrisons at Tarragona, Cartagena and Cádiz.

To better administer the newly conquered territory, Scipio Africanus divided Hispania in two provinces, Hispania Citerior or Nearer Spain with the capital in Tarragona, and Hispania Ulterior or Farther Spain with its capital in Córdoba. Roman administration was almost non-existent in the first decades, as they were mainly interested in the natural resources and economic exploitation through trade and taxes that the Peninsula could offer. Rome relied heavily on pacts with the natives and continuous military presence to keep Hispania in their hands. However, this control soon showed its weaknesses.

A new war started in Greece, a territory more important at the time that Rome wanted to control. Because of that and because the Second Punic War was over, the Republic decided to reduce the Roman legions in Hispania from 4 to 2. But the reduction of Roman military presence in Hispania proved fatal. The first proconsuls were changed every two years and lacked experience and interest to know the local population. That led to abuses of power, and soon the Iberians had enough. In 197 BC the peoples of the two Spanish provinces revolted simultaneously against the new power that conquered them. The uprising was general and massive, and with less than 20,000 Roman soldiers to face it, the praetor of Hispania Citerior was killed, and his army crushed.

Things didn’t look good for the Romans during 197 and 196 BC, but that year they won their war against Macedonia and the Senate was now able to focus its attention on what was happening in the West. Cato the Elder was sent to Hispania in 195 BC to solve the situation. For those who don’t know him, Cato the Elder was a traditionalist Roman who opposed the Greek ideas, and he represented the new landowner class that was ruthlessly exploiting the agricultural lands with slaves, something that would cause a social crisis during the last century of the Roman Republic. The situation was critical, so a total of between 50,000 and 70,000 Roman troops were gathered to put down the revolt. Cato entered the Iberian Peninsula through Emporion. There he achieved a major victory over the coalition of tribes, and because of that some tribes of the Ebro surrendered, gave hostages and freed the Roman prisoners of war. Then the praetors of Hispania Ulterior asked the urgent help of Cato the Elder and he used diplomacy to convince the Celtiberian mercenaries to not help the Turdetani of Ulterior in their revolt. The Iberian people were pacified at least, but Cato still had some time to send his army in unexplored Celtiberian territory to show the power of Rome.

cato the elder bust

A new revolt started in modern Catalonia, but he quickly put it down before leaving for Rome. There Cato the Elder received a triumph, as he had single-handedly finished the Iberian revolt and brought with him the greatest amount of gold and silver seen up to that moment. Cato is glorified in Roman historiography, and it’s not strange, since the path he opened was the one used in the future of Roman imperialism: Rome would use its military power to conquer new territories and systematically and brutally repress any resistance.

You may remember from episode 5 that Lusitanians and Vettones, as well as other natives of the interior and northern parts of Spain, were poor and had very unequal societies, something that encouraged brigandage. That’s a problem that the Romans faced early after their initial conquest, with constant attacks over the Guadalquivir and Ebro Valleys. Between 194 and 179 BC Roman legions pacified the conquered territories and made incursions into the Meseta and the homeland of the Celtiberians. Rome captured Toledo and advanced northwards along the Ebro Valley, making for the first time direct contact with the Vascones.

Eventually, the bellicose Celtiberians raised a confederate army of 35,000 men to oppose Roman expansionism, and the clash started the short First Celtiberian War. Even though this time the Celtiberians gathered an organized army of a considerable size, it wasn’t enough to stop Rome and they were continuously defeated. Tiberius Gracchus the Elder ended the war signing a series of treaties. Gracchus regulated for the first time tax collection to prevent abuse and established that the Celtiberian allies had to provide auxiliary troops and that they could not set up new fortified cities. You know, Rome was still organized as a city-state, and most expansionist actions were brought by the initiative and ambition of Roman generals. Generals administrated the territory in an authoritarian way, which allowed them to abuse the local population and that led to revolts. This continuous state of unrest in the Iberian Peninsula worried the Senate, but in this very same Senate praetors had friends and relatives that protected them. And not only praetors abused the locals, patricians and equites abused them as well. In case you didn’t know, patricians based their power on the ownership of land and equites, or knights, based their power on trade and taxation. Luckily for the Romans, the natives were very divided politically and exhausted after years of constant warfare, so most of the revolts against Roman power and abuses weren’t a threat to their interests.

After years of wars, it was time to stop expanding and focus on exploiting the two provinces of Hispania. Things were quiet for the next 30 years. Many natives started following the agrarian and urbanized lifestyle of the Romans. The Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula was on, and the presence of Italian soldiers and the arrival of settlers from Italy only accelerated the process. The Roman policy in Hispania in those peaceful decades focused on stabilizing the borders, preventing attacks from the tribes of the periphery to exploit economically the provinces. It’s paradoxical, because although the argument is defensive, you always have people that is bordering you, so by using this argument the militaristic and oligarchical Republic could expand indefinitely.

pre-numantine war map

Peace didn’t last long though. In 154 BC the Second Celtiberian War broke out, because a city of modern Aragon, Segeda, grew demographically and decided to expand their existing walls. Rome considered that Segeda was breaking the treaty arranged with Gracchus the Elder, even though that’s not what the treaty said. Why did the Roman Senate oppose that? The thing is that at the same time the Lusitanians and Vettones made an alliance to raze modern Western Andalusia, so the Romans feared a new widespread rebellion in Hispania. Before that could happen, Rome decided to declare war and fight a two-front war. Results were mixed at first, the Lusitanian coalition defeated the Romans in Hispania Ulterior and the Celtiberians effectively repelled the Romans in the first siege of Numantia. The praetor of Hispania Citerior decided to end the war, promising to return to the conditions of the previous treaty. The Celtiberians agreed, but the Senate refused to accept peace, as the Roman oligarchy wanted the total submission of the natives. Nonetheless, praetors and soldiers weren’t very happy to be sent to Hispania, as the land was famous for being dangerous. The new consul, Lucullus, was sent to Hispania to continue the war. He attacked the Celtic tribe next to the Celtiberians, a tribe that had never caused problems to Rome, that’s why Roman historiography qualifies his war as illegal and driven by greed for fame and money. And while he got nothing of that, he was never called to account for his illegal war either.

death of viriathus

The Second Celtiberian War ended then, but what about the Lusitanians and Vettones? The war there got really, really crude, as praetor Servius Sulpicius Galba, after being defeated, promised the Lusitanians peace and lands to make a living. With that proposal the Lusitanians agreed to meet Galba, but that son of a bitch ordered them to put down their weapons, surrounded the Lusitanians and massacred them. Very few survived, but among those who survived there was a man named Viriathus. In 147 BC Lusitanians attacked again but were defeated and sued for peace. But when the treaty was about to be sealed, Viriathus spoke to his people and reminded them that the word of a Roman was meaningless. The Lusitanians saw in him the leader they needed and elected Viriathus as their leader. Viriathus waged a long guerrilla war against Rome that proved extremely effective. But by 140 BC the Lusitanian peoples were exhausted and tried to make peace, a peace accepted by the praetor but not the Senate. Therefore, the war continued and in 139 BC the Roman praetor bribed three of Viriathus’ men to kill his leader while asleep. The action was considered shameful by the Senate, but the Lusitanian War soon ended after that. The pacification of Lusitania was a major step in the Roman conquest of Hispania, which allowed the Republic to advance towards Galicia. In 137 BC Rome achieved a major victory over the Galicians at the river Douro or Duero, although the Celtic region wasn’t totally conquered until the Cantabrian Wars under Emperor Augustus. With most of Galicia in their hands, many important mines of the Spanish Atlantic were now under Roman control.

But let’s go back to 143 BC. In that year Viriathus’ resistance was still strong and Celtiberians decided to rebel too. Therefore, the Third Celtiberian War, also known as the Numantine War, started. The consul Quintus Caecilius Metellus, who recently earned the title Macedonicus for his victories in Greece, was sent to Hispania with a 32,000-strong army. On paper, a large army led by a competent leader like him should have earned a quick victory over the Celtiberians, but the war was very different from the one in Greece. In Greece the consul fought cohesive states, but in Hispania tribes and chiefdoms were politically divided, so there wouldn’t be a decisive battle, but a series of battles and skirmishes. The consul attacked the region of the Vaccaei to cut the possible aid that they could bring to the Celtiberians. His successor attacked Numantia, the most important Celtiberian city that had around 10,000 inhabitants. Numantia was strategically located in a hill to control the region nearby as well as a crossing of the river Douro, in the Castilian region of modern Soria next to modern Aragon. After the Romans were repelled in Numantia, they tried to take the second most important city of the region, Termantia, but they weren’t able to do that either. Again, the new incompetent praetor had the idea to divert the river to starve the city to death, but the men who had this job were attacked by the Numantines. Things didn’t look well, as the cold winter approached, and many men caught dysentery. The end of the annual term of the praetor was approaching, so the praetor decided to make peace with the Numantines. When the new praetor arrived, the previous one denied having made peace without the consent of the Senate, therefore hostilities restarted.

roman movements meseta

The next two years were more quiet, Roman attacks on Numantia failed so again Rome attacked the poor Vaccaei. Attacking this tribe became a habit when attacking Numantia was failing. In 137 BC consul Gaius Hostilius Mancinus took charge of the situation. His leadership was a disaster, he lost multiple battles against the Numantines, then false rumors reached him saying that the Cantabri and Vaccaei were coming to aid the Numantines… And how did Mancinus react? Doing what Strategy 101 teaches not to do: panic. He ordered a retreat and the Roman army ended up surrounded by the Numantines. Luckily for the Romans, the Numantines were too noble and naïve, and offered the Romans peace when it was the perfect moment to destroy their army. Every treaty had to recognize the Roman supremacy, and in this one the Numantines stipulated that they had equal rights in relation to the Romans. The Senate couldn’t recognize such a humiliating treaty, even though the common people were unhappy and exhausted at home. The Senate ordered the new consul to hand Mancinus over the Numantines completely naked and with his hands tied behind his back. The Numantines refused to let him in and Mancinus returned to Rome and lost his citizenship.

The next three consuls didn’t attack Numantia and again they attacked the surrounding areas, without much success. The Roman army was undisciplined and discontented, and Rome needed a competent man to end the campaign. The man chosen for that mission was Scipio Aemilianus, a relative of Scipio Africanus. Scipio Aemilianus had already commanded the Roman Army in the Third Punic War and destroyed Carthage, and he had also participated in campaigns in Celtiberia, therefore he was the only possible choice in 134 BC. Nonetheless, the Senate was envious of the growing popularity of Scipio Aemilianus just as it happened with Scipio Africanus, and they didn’t give him the army he needed. Volunteers could join him though, and many prominent men did so: Gaius Marius who would become a very important consul, the future king of Numidia Jugurtha, historian Polybius or satirist Gaius Lucilius. The first thing Scipio did was restore discipline by strictly enforcing rules of austerity and by organizing though exercises. Once the army had the moral renewed, the Roman army attacked the Vaccaei tribes again to then build a circuit of fortifications to surround completely Numantia. The walls were three meters high and more than 2 meters wide, and while they were building that the Numantines of course attacked, but the Romans repelled their attacks thanks to a witty system of communications. Furthermore, Scipio Aemilianus ordered to close the affluent of the Douro. All the actions had one objective: to starve Numantia to death.

siege of numantia encirclement camps

A brave warrior called Rhetogenes was able to escape and ask the towns nearby for help, but all the major cities refused out of fear. Only one town offered to help, but the elders of the village warned Scipio and he ordered the amputation of the hands of the young people of that village. Yep, the Romans were brutal. After years of constant attacks and months under siege, Numantia was starving. The majority of the Numantines killed themselves, refusing to be enslaved as the few that didn’t commit suicide were. As I talked in earlier episodes, that can be seen as an act of patriotism, but it also could be explained by the social institution that was the devotio. In any case, the heroic last stand inspired both Roman and Spanish people for generations and even Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, wrote a playwright about the siege. The destruction of Numantia in 133 BC, together with the victory over the Lusitanians, were a turning point in the Roman conquest of Hispania. Now that all the major focuses of resistance were controlled, only the few northern tribes of Spain could offer resistance.

For the next 50 years, Hispania enjoyed relative peace. There were a few rebellions here and there, problems with Lusitanian brigandage, but nothing too serious. The only notable conquest was that of the Balearic Islands in 123 BC, under the pretext of fighting the pirates that used the islands as their base. Meanwhile, the Roman Republic had many social problems and other wars to fight, like the Servile Wars, the Social War between Roman and Italic cities or the Cimbrian War against the Germanic tribes that were migrating in allied Roman territories. With the populist policies of the Gracchus brothers of giving away grain to the plebeians, Sicily and Hispania became the breadbaskets of Rome. Apart from grain and mineral resources, Hispania provided a constant flux of slaves to the slave agrarian economy of Rome. A senatorial commission was sent during this period to reorganize Hispania, because the constant warfare caused the migration of peoples and devastation of many areas. The commission had to deal with very important matters like how to redistribute lands, delimiting the borders of the Roman provinces or how to tax fairly and efficiently. We have very little information about what was happening during those 50 years, but it’s clear that there were areas, especially the most economically important, that were very Romanized at this point.

As I mentioned earlier, social tensions skyrocketed after the Numantine War in Rome, social inequality was very high, and the patricians and equites were enriching themselves while the lower and middle classes were suffering the consequences of the Roman slave economy and expansion.  The Marian reforms issued by Gaius Marius improved the military capability of the Roman Army and accelerated the process of Romanization by giving lands to retired legionaries in conquered lands. At the same time, this helped shift the loyalty of the soldiers more towards their general than towards the Roman Republic, something that would ultimately lead to the transformation of Rome from a republic to an empire. The crisis of the Republic allowed someone like Sulla to march on Rome and become dictator. The political tensions were on a scale never seen before, that’s why many political leaders went into exile in Hispania. Why Hispania? Well, the Iberian Peninsula is relatively close to Italy, some parts of Hispania were very Romanized already and the provinces had enough manpower to raise an army if needed.

Quintus Sertorius was the most notable politician to flee for Hispania. He fled first to North Africa in the region of Mauritania, modern-day Morocco, as he was persecuted for being a politician of the Populares faction which favored the plebeians. His victories there earned him fame in Hispania, especially among the Lusitanians. The Lusitanians were tired of being plundered and oppressed, and they asked Sertorius to become the supreme general of their forces. Sertorius accepted, probably not because he cared about the Lusitanians, but because it was his chance to grow his power and challenge Sulla with a power base in Hispania. I highlight that because nationalists have sometimes presented Sertorius as an anti-Roman separatist, while that’s for sure not the case since he was Roman and he wanted to defeat Sulla to control Rome. As I said, for him Hispania was his power base but nothing more, just like the Peninsula was the power base used by Carthage in the Second Punic War to combat Rome.

sertorian war map

In Hispania he created a parallel political structure in imitation to that of Rome, challenging the legitimacy of the aristocratic government of Sulla. Populist politicians, victims of the dictator and Spanish oppressed natives felt that it was in their best interests to support Sertorius. Sertorius used guerrilla tactics to defeat forces larger than his, and everyone quickly noticed his great military skills. Soon he was known as the new Hannibal, and he went from victory after victory until he conquered most of Hispania Citerior. Lusitanians, Celtiberians and Iberians followed him, and Sertorius sealed their loyalty with pacts of devotio. Sulla died, but the aristocratic party remained in power by adopting some populist policies. A young and skilled Pompey assumed the mission to crush Sertorius, but it wasn’t as easy as he initially thought. The war was one of exhaustion for both sides, but after several years of war the followers of Sertorius were more exhausted than the other side and a general betrayed and assassinated Sertorius in 72 BC. Thus, the long nightmare of the Roman government ended.

Pompey put down many rebellions and pacified entire provinces of the Roman Republic. He was a caudillo that wanted to earn the admiration of both the Republic and the plebeians to gain power. But after fighting against pirates in the Mediterranean and conquering multiple areas of the Near East, the oligarchical Senate refused to recognize his victories. He was a hero, much like Scipio Africanus or Scipio Aemilianus, that’s why he was a threat to the Roman political system. What’s paradoxical here is that the opposition of his former patrons brought the ambitious Julius Caesar and Pompey together. The end of the Republic was coming. Not only Pompey had many important friends and the support of the common people and the army, he had also developed strong personal loyalties in Hispania. Nonetheless Julius Caesar was appointed propraetor of Hispania Ulterior in 62 BC, and he also created a network of loyalties by being generous to his soldiers. But going back to the point, Julius Caesar, Pompey and the richest man of Rome were the members of the so-called first triumvirate. During this period Julius Caesar conquered Gaul and Pompey became worried about the growing popularity of Caesar. Despite that, Pompey decided to stay in Rome because he took for granted his network of loyalties in Hispania. Fatal mistake.

There were too many cooks in the kitchen and only one could be the leader of the Republic. Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 49 BC, starting a civil war. Pompey and the Senate fled to Greece, Caesar marched to Hispania and the Pompeian legions of Hispania were defeated or switched sides. The decision of Caesar proved correct, he marched against a leaderless army before attacking a general without army. The victory of Julius Caesar benefited greatly Hispania, but more on that in the next episode. After the famous assassination of Caesar in 44 BC, Mark Antony, Octavian and Lepidus formed a triumvirate. There was a civil war later between Octavian and Mark Antony, but that civil war didn’t affect Hispania at all since there was complete loyalty to the heir of Julius Caesar, Octavian. Octavian won the civil war, he founded the Roman Empire in 27 BC and the rest is history.

But wait there, don’t leave, because the Roman conquest of Hispania had yet to finish. The north of the Iberian Peninsula had to be conquered, and Octavian Augustus had many plans for Hispania. The conquest of the Peninsula had to be completed, if Julius Caesar conquered in less than a decade Gaul, Augustus needed to achieve something greater than Caesar. He already did something great, he incorporated a rich country like Egypt into the new-born Roman Empire. But the conquest of all Hispania would end two centuries of continuous war and problems. How great was that? In addition to that, the northern region was rich in mineral resources, that were indispensable for the exhausted finances of the empire. He had to be the one achieving that.

cantabrian wars

Much like the Lusitanians or Celtiberians earlier, the Astures and Cantabrians razzed their neighbors because they were poor. They attacked tribes under the protection of Rome and that gave Augustus the perfect pretext to start a war. The Cantabrian Wars started in 29 BC, and the war there was going to be long and complicated, because the region is mountainous and the locals had the important advantage of knowing the terrain. Since that region doesn’t have many suitable agricultural lands, it was a complicated campaign in terms of logistics. Augustus personally led the campaign in 26 BC, and more than 70k soldiers loyal to the Emperor joined him. The Cantabrians used guerrilla tactics that irritated Augustus, and he left ill the campaign. For two years Tarragona, in Hispania Citerior, became de facto the administrative capital of the empire. That widely benefited the city and to thank the Emperor it was the first city to erect a temple in his honor, starting the imperial cult. In 24 BC Augustus considered Hispania pacified and held a triumph march in Rome. Despite that, the war continued, or at least local resistance existed. In 22 BC thousands of Cantabrians were surrounded and many killed themselves while others were captured and sold into slavery. Resistance and attacks continued, and Augustus said enough is enough and decided to send Agrippa, his close friend and general, to end the resistance. Agrippa exterminated the Cantabrians in military age, and the Astures surrendered. The conquest of Hispania was completed in 19 BC. It was time to reorganize Hispania and triple down on the integration of the region into the Roman Empire.

THE VERDICT: In today’s verdict I want to highlight the importance of the devotio both in the wars of native resistance and in wars side by side with Romans. Large networks of patronage explain last stands like Numantia or Calagurris, a town that was loyal to Sertorius until Pompey completely destroyed it. The massive suicides of the Cantabrians can also be explained by the devotio, probably some patrons were killed or decided that it was better to commit suicide than to be enslaved, so the devoti had to kill themselves too. Roman generals realized how useful Spanish soldiers were for that and many employed devoti as personal guards. Romans used that social institution to their benefit in other ways, by convincing a patron to swear allegiance to Rome Romans could gain hundreds of allies with little effort, and imperial cult was very strong in Hispania because of devotio. Better to have a loyal and devoted soldier than thousands that can abandon you any time. And with that, The Verdict ends.

As I said, the next episode will be focused on the Romanization of Hispania and the political and economic evolution of Hispania during the Principate, the imperial period before the Crisis of the Third Century. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes, a list of books about the history of Spain and subscribe to the weekly newsletter. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. VOLUMEN 1. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA ANTIGUA. TOMO II. HISPANIA ROMANA. José María Blázquez and others

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license

Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War

This is episode 6 called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War and in this episode you will learn:

Show notes

  • Which were the two rising Mediterranean powers: Carthage and Rome
  • Why was Carthage interested in controlling Spain
  • How and why the Second Punic War started
  • Which was the Hannibal’s strategy to win the war
  • How did Rome almost fall
  • About the hopes of winning with the campaigns of Scipio Africanus in Spain and the decisive Battle of Illipa in 206 BC
  • How did the Second Punic War end
  • How the war affected Spain and the long-term impact of the Second Punic War for Rome and Hispania
  • Reflections about an alternative scenario where Carthage wins the war

Script

I’m David Cot, host of The History of Spain Podcast, and this is episode 6, called Roman Conquest of Hispania: Second Punic War. In this episode we abandon the Prehistory and Protohistory and start the Ancient Era. Because of that it’s going to be a very narrative and entertaining episode compared to the previous ones. You will learn the story of the Second Punic War, a war between two emerging Mediterranean powers, Carthage and Rome, and the implications that that had for Spain. Subscribe to the podcast to not miss an episode!

Two powers emerged between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC, one in each side of the Mediterranean, Carthage and Rome. After the fall of the old Phoenician metropolis of Tyre, Carthage, in modern-day Tunis, assumed the leadership of the Phoenician settlements of the Western Mediterranean, and they expanded their power through both trade and military action. Rome, on the other hand, relied more on the military and land-property interests to expand themselves rather than trade and naval power. Already in 509 BC, when the Roman Republic was founded, Carthage and Rome made a treaty to determine their areas of influence. At that time, Carthage was much more powerful than Rome, the Punics had influence over the entire North African coast, Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica, and of course the southern and levant regions of the Iberian Peninsula. Meanwhile Rome didn’t even have complete control over the Italian Peninsula.

Nonetheless the weak situation of Rome changed during the course of the 4th century BC, and by the 3rd century BC Rome was a threat to Carthaginian interests. The clash of interests over Sicily resulted in the 23-years-long First Punic War that exhausted economically and demographically both powers, but the Roman Republic won. Carthage lost first Sicily and then Sardinia and Corsica as well. But even worse was that Carthage couldn’t pay its mercenary soldiers due to the economic exhaustion and the high indemnities imposed by Rome, which caused the Mercenary War that almost destroyed Carthage. Punic naval power declined as well and the Carthaginian oligarchy had to do something to make up the territorial and economic losses, so the Punic oligarchy debated about what should they do next. The landowner class wanted to renounce to any military action that could cause a new conflict with Rome, they preferred to focus their attention in controlling North Africa and maybe expand westwards to Numidia and Mauritania, modern-day Algeria and Morocco. But then you had the powerful families that had enriched themselves with maritime trade that wanted to expand overseas. The mercantile faction led by Hamilcar Barca of the Barcid family won the debate and the Carthaginian senate allowed the conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.

map second punic war

Therefore, in 237 BC Hamilcar Barca and his army got ashore Cádiz and started their military conquest in southern Iberia. He came along with his son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair and his son Hannibal, who was at the time 9 years old. Hamilcar focused his initial campaign in conquering the territories that used to be Tartessos, with its fertile lands and still important mineral resources. There they fought the Iberians and Turdetani. The Turdetani who opposed Punic expansion hired Celtic and Celtiberian mercenaries. Carthaginian troops defeated them, killed the leaders of the confederate army and incorporated 3,000 of them into their army. Hamilcar gained control over the mines of Sierra Morena and the lands of the Guadalquivir River in a year. That allowed Hamilcar Barca to pay his army, pay part of the indemnities imposed by Rome and buy loyalties. But Carthaginian expansion eastwards proved more difficult. It took 4 years to control the area that is now Murcia and Alicante. Rome already warned Carthage in 229 BC to not advance towards the Iberian Levant because the cities of Emporion and Sagunto asked for Roman aid. Hamilcar replied saying that he was collecting the booty to pay the indemnities, and the Romans left the Carthaginians alone for some years.

Hamilcar moved his campaign to the northwest, in what’s now northeastern Andalusia, where he fought the Oretani tribes led by Orissus. Orissus apparently offered him an alliance to later betray him, as he killed Hamilcar in battle in 228 BC. His son-in-law Hasdrubal the Fair succeeded him and founded the most important strategic base of the Carthaginians in Iberia, Carthago Nova in the region of Murcia. Hasdrubal preferred diplomacy rather than war, so he arranged pacts and marriages with the native elites to pacify the conquered territories. He even signed a treaty with the Roman Republic in 226 BC that delimited the boundaries of the two powers in the Iberus River, which is not clear whether it means the Ebro or the Júcar, which would make sense since the city of Sagunto that is below the Ebro asked for Roman protection. In any case, Hasdrubal was killed in 221 BC by a former slave of Celtic king Tagus, who avenged his dead master. Yeah, a truly moving story of loyalty.

Before I continue with the narrative, let me talk a bit about how the Carthaginians managed the occupied territories to fuel the war machine. The conquered regions were forced to give soldiers, hostages and slaves to the Carthaginians. Punic advanced techniques were implemented in agriculture and mining to increase production, and they also developed the shipbuilding, salting and minting industries in Cádiz and Carthago Nova. Their way to govern the conquered lands is clear: they brought their technologies with them to improve the efficiency of production and either enslaved the local populations or arranged pacts with the local elites.

At the age of 25, Hannibal Barca became the Supreme Commander of the Carthaginian Army, an army made up of professional North African, Balearic and Iberian and Celtic soldiers. Really makes you think that great commanders like Alexander or Hannibal accomplished many things while being young, while most of us haven’t done shit at that age. Anyway, he started his campaign by marching north, where he fought and defeated the Celts and Celtiberians of the Meseta. In the winter of 220 BC Hannibal was planning something no one was expecting. He planned with his brothers the invasion of Italy to revenge the Carthaginian defeat of the First Punic War.

The Second Punic War started in 218 BC, because Hannibal attacked the city of Sagunto that was somehow under the protection of Rome. The causes of the attack and the justification for the war have been a matter of controversy for centuries. The citizens of Sagunto weren’t saints, they raided territories that were under Punic control, so it’s understandable that the Carthaginians could be pissed off. The Romans declared war claiming that Carthage had violated the Ebro Treaty signed a few years before, but it’s not clear if Sagunto was included in the treaty. In any case, the siege of Sagunto lasted 8 months and the Carthaginian troops sacked the city. The city wasn’t destroyed though, as Roman sources try to make us believe. Another very interesting fact is that Rome didn’t aid their supposed allies, they only declared war on Carthage after they heard that the city had fallen and, more importantly, after they had come up with a strategic plan.

About the strategic plans that both sides came up with, we first have the Hannibal strategy that consisted in marching fast and undetected to the Roman homeland, crossing the Alps to then destroy Rome. Hannibal split the army, the majority followed him, but some soldiers needed to remain in Iberia and Carthage. The Carthaginian plan depended on speed and the surprise effect to be successful, but also on the capacity of Hannibal to provoke a revolt among the Italian cities and towns to give a final blow to Rome. On the other hand, the two Roman consuls planned to march one to Iberia through the coasts of southern France, while the other would move to Sicily to then attack Carthage itself. Here is an important detail to know about Roman politics, the senate elected each year two consuls that had the same power, and those consuls were also the supreme commanders of the Roman military. This dual system of course caused disagreements and all sorts of problems, but worse was the yearly term, especially in times of war, because that generated incentives to make stupid military moves for the sake of personal glory. More on that in a second.

hannibal crossing the alps

So, Hannibal marched from Carthago Nova northwards, first defeating the tribes of Catalonia and then crossing the Pyrenees. The Carthaginian Army took an inland route to travel through France, because they didn’t want the Romans or their Greek allies of Massalia to notice them. But the Romans did detect them, and Publius Cornelius Scipio, the consul that had to attack Carthaginian possessions in Iberia, returned to Rome to protect the Roman homeland. The Carthaginian Army was able to cross the Alps under the leadership of Hannibal, something that no one was expecting considering the difficulties of the terrain and that they crossed it when the cold winter was approaching. Take into account that Hannibal was brining thousands of men with him as well as war elephants, so it was a real accomplishment and that’s why it’s a very epic event of world military history. When the news of such an unthinkable action reached Rome, the Roman Senate panicked and the plan to invade the core North African territories of Carthage was aborted. Consul Sempronius Longus joined Scipio and they faced together Hannibal, in a desperate attempt to defeat Hannibal before they were replaced as consuls. The Battle of the Trebia River was the result of that impulsiveness, and of the 42,000 soldiers of the Roman Republic that participated in the battle, only 10,000 managed to retreat. 218 BC was a fantastic year for Hannibal, not only had he defeated the Romans but he was also making alliances with the Gauls, Celts and other people who had recently been conquered by Rome or that felt threatened because of them.

In the following year, new consuls were elected but they were also defeated, most prominently in the Battle of Lake Trasimene. This battle is one of the largest ambushes in military history, and it’s because of his creativity that Hannibal has been so praised in military history. With around 50 or 60,000 men, he killed or captured the entire Roman Army that was made up of 30,000 men. Hannibal held captive those who were Romans and released those who weren’t, to brand himself as a liberator and fighter for freedom against Rome. After the Battle of Lake Trasimene, the Romans panicked, and the Senate decided to appoint Quintus Fabius Maximus dictator. A dictator for the Roman Republic, that is before the transition to the Roman Empire, was a man entrusted with full authority but with some limitations to avoid the end of the Republican system. Within months or a few years, the dictator abandoned that position and everything got back to normal. Fabius famously adopted the so-called Fabian strategy of avoiding pitched battles and open battles, and instead provoke skirmishes that exhausted the enemy. He was called a coward for that and some thought that he only adopted this kind of strategy because he couldn’t come up with anything better.

Due to his unpopularity, new consuls were elected in 216 BC, consuls that adopted a more aggressive approach. The Roman Republic raised an army of 86,000 soldiers to confront Hannibal, who was failing to get support from the Italian people. But all that was for nothing, because this very large army by Ancient standards was led by incompetent generals. The Battle of Cannae is the most well-known victory of the Carthaginians. Hannibal accomplished his greatest military feat, destroying most of the Roman Army with his powerful cavalry and superior tactics. Estimates of the casualties vary, ancient historians like Livy said that Rome suffered more than 60,000 casualties, while modern historians lower that number to maybe 20,000. In any case, the battle was a disaster for Rome and many feared that Rome would fell. The city was on the brink of collapse. The Roman Legions had suffered defeat after defeat, some Italian regions were devastated due to the supply needs of both the Carthaginians and Romans, their morale was very low, and Romans were so desperate that they briefly restored human sacrifice. The Greek colonies and some Italian cities of southern Italy, Macedonia in Greece and the small independent Sicilian state of Syracuse all joined Hannibal. Few believed that the Roman Republic could survive, and everyone wanted to divide the spoils of the Roman Republic.

Yet Hannibal believed that he couldn’t attack Rome yet, because he had an army of around 40,000 and Rome itself had 200,000 inhabitants and still many allied cities and towns. Hannibal offered peace, but the Roman Senate rejected it. With the alliances Hannibal made with some coastal cities, Carthage was able to send reinforcements for the first and only time. Hannibal was basically acting without the support of Carthage, he used the manpower that was left from the initial expedition plus the natives he could ally himself with. Meanwhile, the Roman Senate turned again to Quintus Fabius Maximus and elected him consul in 215 and 214 BC. His strategy may have been the right one, they thought. Even though Carthage was conquering some cities, the Romans at least defeated the Carthaginian expedition to Sardinia, an island that was important to feed Rome, and they also prevented Hasdrubal, brother of Hannibal, to join him, since the Romans defeated Hasdrubal in Iberia.

In 213 and 212 BC two good things happened to Rome: they allied with Syphax, a king of Numidia, and they laid siege and captured Syracuse in Sicily. The Carthaginians were losing the initiative and the momentum they used to have. There were hopes for Rome. Oh, but wait because now there is an unexpected and dramatic turn of events, Hannibal captures the largest Greek city in Italy, Tarentum. Furthermore, the Romans are being defeated in their homeland and the Roman legions located in Iberia are struggling to maintain their position in Catalonia.

Now to continue with what was happening in Spain, the old Scipios captured Sagunto and they were able to hire 20,000 Celtiberian warriors. They launched a major offensive in 211 BC and Hasdrubal and Mago, brothers of Hannibal that led the Carthaginians in Iberia, had to not only keep their position but to try to decisively defeat the Romans in the Peninsula. Remember that Carthage wasn’t sending any reinforcements to Hannibal in Italy, so to have the chance of destroying Rome Hannibal needed the armies of his brothers. The Barca brothers actually managed to crush the Roman Army of Hispania and to kill the old Scipios in the Battle of the Upper Baetis. For the time being, the remaining Roman Army had to go back to its initial position in Catalonia. Who was going to lead them now? Although they were stabilized and reinforced by a general named Gaius Claudius Nero, it was the young son of Publius Scipio the one who replaced him. He would be known as Scipio Africanus, but he hadn’t earned that nickname yet.

Scipio Africanus wanted to avenge his father, keep his legacy alive and save the Roman Republic. He raised a 31,000 strong army, marched south and captured the base of Carthaginian operations in Iberia, Carthago Nova. He slaughtered its inhabitants, its riches were sacked, and the Spanish hostages were liberated to gain more allies. Moving to Italy, the Romans were successful in securing their control over Sicily and in the Italian mainland the war was essentially in a stalemate. Meanwhile, remember that Macedonia also declared war on Rome, and the Roman Republic relied on their Greek allies to fight for them. As in Spain, the Macedonians couldn’t breakthrough and that prevented them from aiding Hannibal in Italy.

It was clear that the Romans had their composure back, while the Carthaginians were making little progress. Hasdrubal was defeated by Scipio, but he was able to cross the Pyrenees and march towards Italy to reinforce the army of his brother and decisively crush Rome. I briefly mentioned Gaius Claudius Nero earlier, but it’s in Italy where he critically participated. This consul prevented the existence of a combined Hannibal and Hasdrubal army that would have been almost impossible to defeat. He tricked the master of tricks and while the lion was distracted, Claudius Nero joined forces with another Roman general and defeated and killed Hasdrubal Barca. The Battle of the Metaurus was a turning point of the Second Punic War, as Hasdrubal was killed and Hannibal was forced to retreat to the Southern Italian region of Calabria.

With Hannibal in a weak position in Italy, the Romans decided to leave him alone, avoid a costly frontal battle and focus on the other major theatre of the war, the Iberian Peninsula. The young and smart Scipio had been forging alliances and hiring native warriors for some time, and the time for a critical action in Spain had arrived. The Iberians, Celts and Celtiberian tribes were massively defecting the Carthaginian side, and the only territories the Punics still controlled were the lands of the south. They were soon to even lose those territories as well. Scipio had a combined Italian-Spanish army of around 50,000 men when he faced and defeated an equally large Carthaginian army led by Hannibal’s brother Mago. The defeat in the Battle of Ilipa of 206 BC was catastrophic for Carthage, and it was the decisive battle that sealed the outcome of the war. Even the old Phoenician colony of Cádiz revolted against Carthage at this point. Scipio had to face an Iberian revolt led by Indibilis and Mandonius, but they were quickly put down. The Iberians had to accept their new rulers, because nothing would be like it had been before the Second Punic War started. Mago Barca attempted to recapture Carthago Nova, but he failed. Scipio didn’t wait to pay a visit to the Numidian Kings Syphax and Masinissa. Syphax used to be an ally of Rome but switched sides, but Masinissa did the reverse, giving Rome the Numidian cavalry that was so highly regarded.

But what was next? Should Rome sign a treaty in favorable conditions? Should they focus on annihilating the remaining forces of Hannibal in Italy? Or should they attack Carthage itself in North Africa? The Roman Senate had disagreements, in part because Scipio was elected consul at the age of 31 in 205 BC, and many senators, including Quintus Fabius, were envious and questioned the ambitions of Scipio. He was already very popular because he secured the former Carthaginian possessions of Hispania for Rome, but what if he campaigned in Africa and destroyed Carthage? The glory of such an action would make him extremely powerful. Therefore, the Senate decided to not give him more troops that the ones stationed in Sicily. But due to his popularity, Scipio was able to hire more men and ships that the ones Rome gave him.

Scipio get away with his desired African campaign, he landed near Carthage, put the city of Utica under siege and set on fire the camp of the Carthaginians and Numidians of Syphax, slaughtering most of the Carthaginian army with a not very honorable but effective move. Scipio Africanus then chased down another Carthaginian and Numidian army, capturing King Syphax and helping King Masinissa unite Numidia under him. The Carthaginians were very worried, and some wanted to sue for peace while others wanted Hannibal and the rest of the Carthaginian army of Italy to go back home and protect the motherland. Carthage and Rome were arranging an armistice in 203 BC and Scipio proposed moderate peace terms, but Hannibal was recalled from Italy and once he arrived the Carthaginian senators that wanted to keep the war going won popularity and peace negotiations stopped. Hannibal and Scipio fought a final battle in 202 BC, the Battle of Zama. In this battle, Rome had for the first time cavalry superiority thanks to the Numidians, and although the battle was fierce and bloody, Scipio Africanus managed to win. After the battle, Hannibal convinced the few that still wanted the war to continue to stop and negotiate peace.

The Roman Senate wanted the destruction of Carthage and the death of Hannibal and his family, but Scipio instead offered more acceptable terms. The Carthaginians were banned to raise an army without Roman permission, their naval fleet was severely limited and they would have to pay an indemnity. Carthage lost all their Spanish possessions, and the Romans were able to keep the former Carthaginian Spanish territories under their control, except for the Balearic Islands that would take a little longer to conquer.

Now, since this podcast is called The History of Spain Podcast, let’s focus on the influence the Second Punic War had in the Iberian Peninsula. The conquered part of the peninsula was divided in two provinces, Hispania Citerior in the north and Hispania Ulterior In the south. The tribes that lived in what used to be Carthaginian Hispania lost their political autonomy, they had to pay taxes to the Romans and the Senate could ask for extraordinary contributions or the recruitment of auxiliary troops any time. Only Ampurias, Sagunto and Málaga maintained their status of free cities for some time as a reward for their collaboration. Nonetheless, the Romans in the initial phase of the conquest were very respectful with the local oligarchies. Rome essentially practiced exploitation colonialism, which means that with few colonists they kept the Iberian territories under their control to exploit the natural resources, manpower and trade opportunities to benefit the metropole. And how did they do that? Mainly using military force but also with the arrangement of pacts and marriages. But we will see in the next episode that the domination of Hispania wouldn’t be easy for Rome.

THE VERDICT: Okay, I know that this is alternate history stuff but, what if Carthage won the Second Punic War and destroyed Rome? The entire history of Europe would be incredibly different, I mean, the consequences of that are of such a magnitude that are almost unthinkable. Maybe more Oriental ideas would have influenced Europe, or maybe trade, instead of militarism, would have influenced more heavily European cultures. Would we even have Christianity and Islam, or Latin languages? But the survival of the Roman Republic and the conquest of the Carthaginian territories of Hispania provoked the rise of an unstoppable Roman imperialism that would eventually transform the Republic into an Empire, and change Europe, North Africa and the Near East forever. Carthage was a bit like Germany in the Second World War. They lost the first, they sought revenge and they were crushed again, this time much more decisively. In the end, I think that the chances of Carthage winning were lower than thus of Rome. The fact that it was mostly a defensive war for the Romans also created stronger loyalties, which is easy to understand because if you saw those foreign Carthaginians sacking and razing your region, would you be happy to collaborate with them? Would you see them as liberators? Carthage didn’t treat the rest of North Africans as equals and relied on a less-devoted mercenary force to combat, while Rome had more citizens and strong alliances with other Italians. That’s why Hannibal, speaking in broad terms, didn’t succeed in convincing the Italians outside Rome to join him, and that’s also why the Roman Republic could raise a new army every time they were severely defeated. And with that, The Verdict ends.

The Second Punic War supposed the unstoppable rise of one Mediterranean power, the Roman Republic, and the critical defeat of the other one, the Republic of Carthage. Never again Carthage supposed a serious threat to Rome, even though there was the Third Punic War, but that one was very asymmetrical and supposed the existential destruction of Carthage. Anyway, Rome consolidated its presence not only in Italy, but expanded or critically gained influence in Hispania, Africa and Greece. With the decline of Carthage as a trading power, Rome grew economically too, even though many parts of Italy and especially the south had been razed by the Carthaginian Army. That also brought social changes like the rise of the equites, a social class that unlike patricians could participate in trade, more and more poor common people and slaves moved to Rome, which increased social tensions, and Greek culture started influencing substantially Roman culture. Only time showed how relevant was the Second Punic War and how important would be Rome for Spain. To end this episode, let me remind you that the podcast has a website, thehistoryofspain.com, where you can find the scripts of the episodes and a list of books about the history of Spain available on Amazon. Please subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube and more, review the podcast, and follow the social media accounts of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I hope you enjoyed the episode and thank you for listening!

Sources

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. LA ESPAÑA ROMANA Y VISIGODA. Planeta

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA. HISPANIA ANTIGUA. Domingo Plácido

“EL IMPACTO DE LA CONQUISTA DE HISPANIA EN ROMA (218-154 a.C.)”. José María Blázquez Martínez

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KydeB-faeE8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ueiAqnVD3IQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4a3-KsyyJR8

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lf0-Yki5p40

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT_rev5VAQc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wT_rev5VAQc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=McT1H-NVCMQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P3yIiAZgQLI

NOTE: Credit for the intro and outro music to Jeris and Clarence Simpsons, the song is called ‘Conquistador’and it’s under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license